There have been nights this season — lots of nights, it seems — when the Los(t) Angeles Lakers have been the antidote to other NBA teams’ ills.
But not quite as much for the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.
Oh, the Mavericks prevailed 110-97, snapping a disappointing four-game home losing streak. Dirk Nowitzki scored 27 points, and guards Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis combined for 10 steals.
With 1:40 to go before halftime, however, the Mavericks’ run of New Year’s rotten luck bit them again. Shawn Marion appeared to trip on Laker Pau Gasol’s foot, then he bumped into teammate Nowitzki and fell hard to the floor.
The 19,656 at American Airlines Center let out a groan when they saw the replay. Marion, who already had eight points and seven rebounds, left the game, never to return. His injury was announced as a shoulder contusion.
“He’s banged up,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “X-rays were negative, but he will not travel with us tonight. We’re just going to hope he’s better tomorrow or the next day.”
The Mavericks, if anything, have been hardy souls through this still-young NBA season. They have survived a fractured shoulder (Brandan Wright), neglected alarm clocks (Samuel Dalembert), occasionally indifferent rebounding (many) and only fleeting glimpses of backcourt defensive play.
Yet, if the season ended today, the 20-15 Mavericks, for better or worse, would be headed for the NBA playoffs.
They wouldn’t want to do it without Marion. Nor would they want to play the first 40 minutes the way they did Tuesday night.
“I actually looked for us to play a lot better from start to finish,” Carlisle said, “but it just didn’t go that way.”
The visitors, after all, were the Lakers, mired in an ongoing state of disarray. You wouldn’t recognize them. Maybe even Kobe Bryant, out with a broken knee, wouldn’t recognize them.
The Lakers began play Tuesday having lost seven of their previous eight games.
No wonder Carlisle wasn’t overly pleased. With 8:23 left, the Mavericks’ lead, never a robust one on this night, was only 89-85.
That’s when Ellis awoke from a game-long offensive stupor, scored 10 straight points and boosted the Mavericks’ advantage to 13.
Game over, but maybe not the Mavericks’ New Year malaise.
“We came out a little lackadaisical tonight,” the Mavericks’ Vince Carter said. “I think we played down to them, and they were ready to play.
“Once they hit us in the mouth first, we were able to fight back and really play Mavs basketball.”
But what is Mavs basketball, exactly? That’s a question that Carlisle and his team may have to answer sooner than they think.
Ellis, for one, cannot afford to make a habit of the 2-for-11 shooting start that he had against the Lakers. The Mavericks were also outrebounded by Los Angeles, thanks to Gasol and Robert Sacre combining for 23 rebounds.
Carlisle gave credit to Ellis, though, for “staying the course.” Ellis finished with 16 points and nine assists.
“He’s a monster,” Carter said.
He meant it as a compliment, of course. Ellis’ offensive output was one of the Mavericks’ shining spots through the first 30 games of the season.
They still know how to run the floor and move the basketball. The trio of Dirk, Ellis and Calderon have shown a knack for finding the open man. And for most of the young season, Carlisle’s team has been fun to watch, regardless of the opponent.
But ouch — they can’t afford an injury to a key starter such as Marion.
On Tuesday night, the visiting Lakers were like a dose of cough syrup. A more probing examination for the Mavericks comes in San Antonio tonight.